The Road to Quang Ngai
Rebecca Thomas and her husband Mark adopted a three-year old boy from Vietnam in the spring of 1996. Here are excerpts from Rebecca's personal journal that document some of her experiences:
1/19/96 - The news has finally come: there is a boy. He is nearly three years old, lives in Quang Ngai Province, came to the orphanage in September. Reportedly very cute. I wait anxiously for his photo to arrive in the mail.
1/24/96 - I can barely keep my eyes from the picture of this boy, propped on the piano. What a strange and wonderful thing it is, this business of considering an unknown child. When I first drew the picture from the envelope, I felt a blankness, no immediate bonding, no grand "AHA, This is the one!" Actually, I felt in control, deliberate and thoughtful in considering this boy. So quickly have I grown to love his face, anxious to hold him, wanting to see him smile. I know already that I want this boy.
2/2/96 - To us, his Vietnamese first name sounds like the "F" word, so, we'll keep his second Vietnamese name as his American first name, but call him by his new middle (American) name. I like the combination: Huu (Hugh) Colton Thomas.
2/29/96 - Had my shots, all papers are filed, sent C's picture to the grandmothers: both are now madly in love! Began buying trip supplies, planning logistics for us all, even pre-school for fall. Preschool!
3/7/96 - Last day of my county Vietnamese language class. One night a week for eight weeks is clearly not enough. But I feel I have a better sense of the language and culture. Plus, the class helped ease the waiting. Maybe I can actually say something to someone on my trip!
3/18/96 - I worry so as the days wind down their finality to having a child. Will we have enough money? Will I get sick there? Will I love him enough? Will it all be okay?
4/2/96 - Travel dates unsure, but agency certain I will go before the end of THIS month. Seems unreal. This morning I contemplate words from Living Buddha, Living Christ about going beyond self to find self. For inexplicable reasons, I feel an overwhelming sense of rightness about Vietnam, a connectedness that begins now with a boy and that points toward a lifetime of knowing that other world.
4/8/96 - Seem to see Vietnam everywhere: books, articles and people. Did I not notice these before? Travel dates still unknown. Finally told my boss, made necessary arrangements. Everyone wants to hear my "Vietnam adoption story." I must grow used to the retelling.
4/12/96 - Travel meeting with agency today. Got comprehensive instructions and travel dates! Leave next Thursday to be in-country for three solid weeks. I was suddenly too stunned to hear anything and had to have a whole conversation repeated. I am truly on my way!
4/18/96 - Leave today. Am a jumble of feelings: all anxiety and nerves? Getting ready has been a weeklong task. List making, reservations, last-minute trip to INS, calls to family and friends, filling all prescriptions I have had for the last two years as a precaution. I shopped judiciously but wonder how I can every carry everything I was told to bring. Carrying enough foodstuffs for snacks and light meals for three weeks!
Sad to leave Mark. Never been away from him for so long and with such minimal opportunity for contact. I'm convinced our decision for him to remain here was right. He can continue to generate income and he will be "fresh" when I return. Not to mention he is truly a terrible traveler. And we need to conserve cash where we can. Some people are surprised at this decision but it feels right for us.
4/20/96 - Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). All the talking, planning, thinking, worry-now I am here. Ashamed to admit that I'm already a little homesick. This is travel fatigue talking. My bags did not make it yet-maybe tomorrow. I have an overwhelming sense of aloneness because it seems there may be no other families going through this process with me. My stomach is in a twist about tomorrow. I meet Colton. Will I truly be ready? More, will I want him? And most of all, will he want me?
My room in this New Asia Hotel, which seems to cater to westerners, is very comfortable. Fresh fruit and water provided daily, even a blow dryer in the bathroom. From my window, I see the street-such energy! An endless parade of motor scooters and hordes of bicyclists carrying everything from cages of live chickens to large pieces of furniture engulf the rare car. Although barely 6 PM, it is dusk, the sunset tinting the Saigon skyline a pale pink.
We fly to Danang tomorrow and then drive a few hours to C's orphanage in Quang Ngai. The Giving and Receiving Ceremony is planned for the day after that. In less than 24 hours, I will have a son!
So few faces like my own to look back at me-a strange feeling. Will this be how C feels as he grows up? We must be attuned to "outsiderness" and speak with him openly about his feelings and experiences as an adopted child, trying our hardest to shape his experiences such that he does, in fact, live as best he can in a blended world.
4/22/96 - Quang Ngai, 3:30 AM. Yesterday was a day and a lifetime. So wound up I can't sleep. Arrived Danang around 5 PM. Mary (the agency's in-country coordinator) haggled hard just to get a taxi ride into the city to rent a car. But then the taxi driver agreed to drive us the 2+ hours to Quang Ngai.
What a drive! In a comfortable new Honda, he drove swiftly-as swiftly as possible that is. Most roads in Vietnam are equivalent to two lanes. But with no lines drawn to guide traffic, the streets are an unruly mess of cyclists, scooter, people walking with buckets balanced across their shoulders, farmers trailing livestock or pulling wagons full of materials. The driving technique is to keep to the center of the road. If anyone-or anything-gets in your way, you toot the horn until the person moves to the right. Of course, there's still all the people coming at you as you steer left to circumvent your obstacle because drivers coming from the other direction are doing the same thing.
I cannot begin to describe what I saw from the car window as we streaked through the countryside in dimming light. Total poverty, beautiful land, mountains rising in the distance. We passed in and out of small towns, villages and farmland. People were wrapping up for the day, going home.
We came into Quang Ngai at 7:45 PM and headed straight for the orphanage. I was tired, nervous and sweaty. I willed myself awake to prepare to see my child for the first time. We turned progressively onto smaller streets, unpaved, bumpy, passing close by homes in which I could see people going about their evening routine. Houses here seem to be completely open, with no visible doors or windows to block out elements or onlookers.
Finally we arrived at a padlocked gate at the end of a dirt road. Ahead in the headlights, I recognized the veranda in photos I had of C. Children flowed out-altogether, nearly fifty live here along with nine old people. They could not find the key to unlock the gate so we got out of the taxi, headed in. The children's rooms were lined up along one side of the veranda. Five, six, seven children of school age occupy a room. We went to the last room, Mary ahead talking with the woman on duty.
It was completely dark. Colton had been asleep and they woke him. As I walked into that last room, they put him in my arms. He immediately snuggled up to my neck and fell back to sleep. He felt virtually weightless. I walked into a dimly lit area to look more closely at him on my own. He couldn't be pried from my neck, but looking down, I could see his face was truly beautiful. I squeezed and stroked his entire body which felt fine, normal, with bones as frail as a bird's and a butt less wide than my handspan.
I set Colton on his feet, having worried that he couldn't walk. He stood there well enough, but whimpered. Mary says he will grow and thrive, his small calves soon to be muscled out and sturdy. I was told the Vietnamese don't let little ones walk much, but rather carry them until they can nearly do so longer, or until the child will have none of it.
As I walked up and down the veranda, I looked into the open doors and windows of the childrens' rooms. So many kids! The girls were studying; later we learned that they are instructed to look studious when outsiders arrive. As they saw me pass, they would "come to attention" to acknowledge my presence. Later, as we stood about trying to figure out if we could take Colton with us, a horde of girls surrounded me, smiling and giggling. One, Le, stepped forward and as I jiggled sleeping Colton against me, she practiced her English. At 15, she looked barely 12. In ninth grade, she soon will leave the orphanage to work at a trade. Others stood closely beside her, leaning affectionately against one another, as she attempted question after question in halting English: What is your name? How old are you? Are you married? Who lives with you? What country are you from?
We left without Colton. The absent orphanage director had been phoned and he refused to let us take C without his being there. In spite of all Mary's preparation, we essentially had arrived too late in the day. To take him at this point would be seen as pirating him out in the night. I handed him to Le and we left.
It's nearly 5 AM. I am tired, and scared. We must return to collect Colton at 7 AM. Suddenly I am about to have a responsibility beyond any I've ever known. The total reality of all our plans and dreams seems funneled into this weary moment, this stale room. I am nervous about my ability to handle it all. He is so lovely. The future of who he will be is so unsure, and so much mine to manage. I wanted a child. I have a child. Now it begins!
Published on 7/1/96